Adolescents Becoming Adults: Attributes for Adulthood

By Scheer, Scott D.; Unger, Donald G. et al. | Adolescence, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview
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Adolescents Becoming Adults: Attributes for Adulthood

Scheer, Scott D., Unger, Donald G., Brown, Margaret B., Adolescence

Adolescent cognitive task completion (identity vs. role confusion), event timing (on or off-time), and sequencing (normative or nonnormative order) are important for later life adjustment (Elder, 1987; Erikson, 1960). These are important pathways in which adult status, its meaning, and the later life course are determined. In addition to age (Featherman, 1985), the timing of pregnancy, marriage, obtaining a first job, and completing school have been commonly used as markers for adult status (Elder, 1975; Modell, Furstenberg, & Hershberg, 1976; Neugarten & Datan, 1973). Also shown to have consequences for the timing of adult status have been occupational attainment and earnings (Hogan, 1980), welfare dependency (Card & Wise, 1978), and divorce (Furstenberg, 1976). Youths' perceptions of when they become adults may also influence their sexual, economic, community, and political behavior since people who perceive themselves as adults are likely to behave with greater levels of maturity and responsibility (Scheer & Palkovitz, 1994).

Research has yet to clearly identify the end of adolescence and the onset of adulthood, particularly from the perspective of youth. Specific attributions or cognitive intentions have been largely ignored even though they are suggested to influence social status (marriage and parenthood) and adult roles (Marini, 1984; Hogan & Astone, 1986). Particularly in Western cultures, cognitions are likely to be important in determining adulthood since the transition is more often subjective and individually defined (Arnett & Taber, 1994). The objectives of this research were to determine: (a) the age when adolescents perceived they were or would become adults; (b) the most important factors adolescents attributed to becoming adults; and (c) the implications these attributions had for motivating youth to successfully achieve adult status.



Participants in this research were 113 adolescents (63% females, 37% males). Their ages ranged from 13-19, with a mean age of 16.5 years. The majority of the sample were white (84%); others were African-American (12%), Hispanic (2%), or Asian (2%).


To determine adult status, adolescents were asked if they considered themselves to be adults, and when they realized they were adults or, if they were not yet adults, when they thought they would be. They were then asked to mark one of eight options to indicate the most important factor or attribute in becoming adults. The categories were generated from Scheer and Palkovitz's (1994) qualitative, open-ended analysis (n = 248) of reasons given by young adults for attaining adult status (see Table 1). Another category was also provided where youth could write in their own answers.

Two other measures were used: (a) Rosenberg's (1965) Self-Esteem Scale consisting of 10 items (Cronbach alpha = .91) scored on a Likert scale ranging from one (strongly disagree) to four (strongly agree); and (b) the Center for Epidemologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), a 20-item (Cronbach alpha = .90) measure of depressive symptoms with a Likert scale ranging from one (never) to four (often).


Adolescents' attributes for becoming adults
by percents and gender.

                            Total Sample    Females      Males
Attributes                    %      N     %      N     %     N

Cognitive Related

1. Reaching maturity         -37.2    42   42.3   30   28.6   12
taking responsibility
for my actions

2. Making my own decisions    14.2    16    8.5     6  23.8   10

3. Multiple responses(1)      20.0    23   18.3    13  23.8   10
(reaching maturity x
making own decisions x
financial independence)

Event Related

4. Financially independent -  12.4    14   14.1    10   9. 

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